Billy Mitchell: I’m Still Fine

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Billy Mitchell

I’m Still Fine

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, April 17, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Billy Mitchell
Photo: Tim Schulties

Billy Mitchell described his show I’m Still Fine as “outré cabaret.” It’s an intriguing term for this autobiographical evening that didn’t hesitate to go to some very dark places. He has a folkish balladeer voice that is more seductive than it is accurate; his set list contained more pop songs than Broadway standards, and his on-stage personality shifted between charm and bitter humor. His campy opening with “Call Me Maybe” (Carly Rae Jepson/Tavish Crowe) allowed him to romp through the audience and flirt indiscriminately with men and women. He quickly established his need to escape his boyhood home with “Gotta Move” (Peter Matz). This, like many of the songs in the show, was well chosen to illustrate his experiences and moods.

“Never Dreamed You’d Leave Me in Summer” (Stevie Wonder) served as a moving tribute to his mother and her passing. He continued in a very dark mood with two highly dramatic numbers, “Chandelier” (Sia) and “Everybody Hurts” (R.E.M.). Happily, things took an upswing in the show and in his life with “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn), followed by a loopy version of “My Favorite Things” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II) that highlighted his years in high school. Tentative, failed romances were exposed via the warmly sung “You Belong with Me” (Taylor Swift).

Throughout the program he received fine support from Tracy Stark as piano accompanist and music arranger and on backup vocals. She strongly filled in on Mitchell’s vocals to make them far more satisfying. Presumably she also created the highly effective medley of “I Drove All Night” (Tom Kelly/Billy Steinberg) and “Creep” (Radiohead), the first of several numbers about passion that can verge on the psychotic. “Screw Loose” (Adam Schlesinger/David Javerbaum) and “Before He Cheats” (Carrie Underwood) continued this deep dive into obsessions. To balance this, he brought his long-term partner on stage for a lovely duet on “Almost Paradise” (Mike Reno). This back and forth between lightness and darkness served as the major theme of this highly personal show.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."